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His Wicked Heart (Secrets & Scandals) by Darcy Burke - Romance>Historical RegencyIT'S HARD TO BE RESPECTABLE
Jasper Sinclair, Earl of Saxton, made a bargain with his devil of a father to marry in one month’s time. But instead of shackling himself to an acceptable debutante, he indulges his baser needs. He joins a fighting club and pursues a delectable woman who may not be what she seems. Soon he finds himself battling addictions that threaten his already wicked heart.
WHEN YOU'D RATHER BE WICKED
Orphaned seamstress Olivia West wants the chance to lead an honest, respectable life, but the arrogant Earl of Saxton launches a daunting campaign to make her his mistress. Destitute and desperate, she agrees to one night with the dangerous lord, hatching a scheme to take his money and keep her virtue. However, Jasper uncovers her deception and vows to claim what he's owed—not his money, her.
“Intense and intriguing. Cinderella meets Fight Club in a historical romance packed with passion, action and secrets.” –Anna Campbell, Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed
“A romance that is going to make you smile and sigh…a wonderful read!” –Rogues Under the Covers
Reader Rating: 5.0 (1 Ratings)
From Rogues Under the Covers"A romance that is going to make you smile and sigh...a wonderful read!"
From Anna Campbell, Seven Nights in a Rogue's Bed"Intense and intriguing. Cinderella meets Fight Club in a historical romance packed with passion, action and secrets."
Excerpt:JASPER SINCLAIR, twelfth Earl of Saxton, loosened his cravat as he awaited the arrival of his companion for the evening. He’d never visited this particular brothel, situated in a tiny court off the Haymarket, but a glimpse of its employees below stairs had been enough to encourage him to stay. It was difficult to find a bawdy house whose offerings were worth his notice that wasn’t frequented by the upper echelon of Society. And Jasper ought to know. He’d made a hobby of locating just such jewels amongst the filth.
He had high hopes for tonight. His body thrummed with pent-up energy he needed to release before facing his family at his mother’s bi-weekly tea tomorrow. He shoved away thoughts of that and focused on the matter at hand. Or rather the matter that would soon be in his hands. He stripped his coat off and threw it over the back of a chair.
The room was functional enough, and a quick review of the bed revealed it to be clean, if not sumptuous. But Jasper didn’t require silks or velvets. Just a beautiful woman with skill and an unabashed desire to demonstrate it.
The door clicked, and Jasper’s blood heated. He was ready.
He turned, and his need evaporated. Christ, but she was the spitting image of Abigail, a woman he’d spent the last ten years striking from his memory. But now she came roaring back as if he’d met her—loved her—yesterday. His body chilled at the sight of this doppelganger, regret and self-loathing overtaking any sense of desire and commanding him to leave. Now.
He went to the chair and plucked up his coat.
“My lord?” the woman asked, her brow creasing gently. She sauntered toward him. “I’m Tilly. Let me take that.” She tried to pull the coat from his grip, but he held it fast.
“No. I’m leaving. This isn’t adequate.”
Tilly’s eyes widened briefly and then she gave a quick nod. “I see. I’m sure I can find us a different room. Something a bit richer, perhaps?”
Jasper shoved his arms into his coat. “You misunderstand. It’s not the room. It’s you. You’re all wrong.” He pushed past her toward the door.
She grabbed his arm, her grip surprisingly strong for a slender whore. “I’m sure I can be right. Give me a chance, my lord.” She rubbed her breasts against his sleeve.
Jasper glanced down at her nearly exposed nipples. Images of Abigail, sweet and virtuous, rose in his mind. The memories were at total odds with the present scenario—a strumpet in a brothel. He threw off Tilly’s hold and made for the door.
She followed him into the corridor. “My lord, you mustn’t leave.” Her tone took on a dark, desperate edge.
Jasper reached into his waistcoat and extracted a few coins. He tossed them back to her. “Here, that should be more than generous for the scant few minutes I took of your time.”
He stalked away from her and descended the stairs. The madam watched him as he crossed through the parlor, her eyes narrowing with concern. Jasper didn’t pause to speak with her.
Outside, he withdrew his gloves from his coat pocket. He took a deep breath of sweltering night air and shoved the gloves right back into the pocket. Hang them.
Eager to put tonight’s disappointment behind him, he took long strides toward the mouth of the L-shaped Coventry Court. His eye caught a couple near the corner of the court and the Haymarket. The man—a gigantic brute, really—towered over the woman. He wrapped his hand around her waist and drew her close against his chest. But she didn’t like it. She pushed at him, and her hat went tumbling to the ground, revealing glossy auburn curls pinned atop her head.
Jasper despised a bully, and as the son of the Duke of Holborn, he’d had plenty of experience with one. In several swift strides, he closed the gap between him and the woman being manhandled.
“I said I’m not interested,” the woman said, trying, ineffectually, to extract herself from the man’s grasp.
Jasper suppressed the need to smash the villain into the ground. He’d spent the past decade stifling his baser impulses, containing them to the appropriate time and place, but seeing that Abigail lookalike had his senses on overload. Still, he’d learned to master his control. He’d had to. Others got hurt when he didn’t. He curled his fingers into his palms.
“She said no. Release her.”
The brute swiveled his block-shaped head toward him. “And who the hell are you?”
“Your better.” Jasper was glad he’d forsaken his gloves. He was ready for battle. Eager for it. “Release her now.”
“Push off.” With a dismissive nod, the man returned his attention to the redhead.
Unhindered rage poured through Jasper with the speed of a racing thoroughbred. Without censoring his actions, he reached out and wrapped his hand around the larger man’s neck.
“You’re not listening to me.” He squeezed his fingers into the man’s skin, felt tendons straining against his palm. “Let. Her. Go.”
“My lord?” March, Jasper’s footman, had silently approached. He’d been stationed just outside the court, awaiting his employer’s pleasure.
The villain’s eyes widened, and he abruptly released the woman. “I beg your pardon, my lord.” He bowed his head and looked at the ground, which was a bit difficult given Jasper’s grip on his neck.
Jasper didn’t loosen his hold. “If you come near her again, I’ll know. And you’ll pay for it. Have I made myself clear?”
“Aye,” he croaked.
Jasper slowly pried his fingers from the man’s flesh, disappointed he hadn’t put up more of a fight. With a deep, calming inhalation, he stepped back and straightened his coat. The brute stepped around March and exited the court.
“March,” Jasper said, inclining his head toward the Haymarket, where his coach was parked.
The footman nodded and took himself off.
Jasper turned to the woman. She stared up at him with wide-eyed shock. Captivating green-eyed shock. Or perhaps wonder.
“Thank you, my lord.” Her voice quavered, and she bent to retrieve her hat.
Jasper beat her to it. He fingered the thick felt, thinking it would feel terribly heavy on a sultry night like this. Why was she wearing it? He looked at her face and simply stared. She was exquisite. The street lamp splashed across her fine-boned features, sculpting the patrician nose, full lips, and saucily dimpled chin. She wore a heavy cloak, which had to be stifling in this heat, but he could tell from the slender curve of her neck and the narrow bones of her delicate wrist that she possessed an alluring figure. She was what he’d been hoping for. What he needed tonight.
“Your hat,” he offered. “Though I daresay you might not want to put it back on. It’s rather hot.”
She nodded. “Thank you. I’m nearly home anyway. I only wear it to disguise myself. Not that it worked this evening.” Her hand shook as she accepted the hat from him.
“You’ve had quite a scare. Let me see you home.”
“Thank you, but that’s not necessary, my lord.” She turned and walked into the court.
He wasn’t going to let her go that quickly. He caught up to her in a few long strides. “Where do you live?” The court held a half-dozen ramshackle buildings, the nicest of which was the brothel. Was she one of their doves? If so, he’d take her upstairs in a trice. And maybe offer her a long-term arrangement. She was that beautiful.
“Just there.” She pointed toward the brothel.
This was too convenient. His night wasn’t ruined after all. “May I come upstairs with you?”
She paused just before the brothel and shot him a horrified look. “No.”
Ah, perhaps she was overset after her encounter. “Tomorrow night, perhaps.”
“No.” She quickened her pace. Past the brothel.
What the hell?
Jasper kept up with her, determined to break through her cool exterior. “I thought you said you lived there?” He gestured back toward the brothel.
She said nothing, and continued walking toward the end of the court.
He snagged her elbow. “Stop, please.”
She turned abruptly and glanced down at where his hand was wrapped around her arm. “Unhand me. You’re no better than that other man. Worse maybe, since you were so quick to choke him.” Her gaze was direct but dark. He couldn’t tell if she was afraid. Christ, he didn’t want her to be afraid.
Jasper froze. Images of fights at Eton and Oxford flashed in his brain. “I’m not a violent person.” Anymore. “And I’d certainly never attack a woman.” Ever. In fact, several of those rows had been in defense of a woman.
He let her go.
She arched a brow, and he wondered if she believed him. “That’s relieving. I live here.” She pointed to the shabby building they’d stopped in front of, a four-story hovel with missing shutters, crumbling brick, and a dilapidated roof.
He couldn’t keep his lip from curling. She lived in this sty? “You can’t.”
“I can, and I do.” She lifted her chin, giving him a glimpse of a woman who deserved far better than her current station. Which was?
He took in the pair of slatterns standing in front of the boarding house. They were of far lower quality than the women in the brothel next door. But it seemed the entire court was rife with prostitution. There was only one way to determine her occupation. “Why won’t you let me make an appointment with you? If not tonight or tomorrow, tell me when.”
Now her lip curled. “I’m not available. Now, good night.”
She turned just as a man emerged from the boarding house.
“Miss West,” he greeted, stepping forward. His gaze lifted toward Jasper, but he quickly returned his attention to Miss West. “Are you all right?”
“Fine, Mr. Beatty, thank you. This gentleman,” she indicated Jasper with a wave of her hand, “rescued me from a rather forward bloke and insisted on seeing me home.”
Mr. Beatty stepped around her and offered his hand in greeting. Jasper shook his hand, more than a little surprised—and impressed—at the man’s nerve.
“Thank you for assisting Miss West. It’s a shame she has to walk home at this hour from the theatre. I’d offer my escort, but I’m afraid I’m rather busy with my daughter.” The lines around his eyes and mouth creased with worry, making him seem older than his probably thirty years. He turned to Miss West. “I’m sure I can find someone trustworthy to see you home while you’re filling in on the stage.”
She was an actress?
She threw a glance at Jasper before returning her attention to Mr. Beatty. “You’re very kind, but that won’t be necessary. Mae is returning to her role tomorrow. I was able to finish Molly’s dress and your shirt tonight, however.” She pulled a bag from her shoulder, reached inside and withdrew two garments.
Mr. Beatty’s face lit up the dim and dreary court. Then the creases returned. “I wish I could pay you, but Molly’s medicine was too expensive.”
Miss West smiled at him and patted his hand. “It’s all right, Mr. Beatty. I don’t expect payment.”
He hugged the clothing to his chest and offered a hapless smile. “You’re surely an angel.” His gaze dipped to her hem. “I’ll make you a new pair of boots for winter.”
Miss West quickly pulled the worn toes of her boots beneath her skirt, but not before Jasper noted the deeply scuffed leather. She replaced the bag over her shoulder and smiled at Mr. Beatty. “Thank you. Is Molly doing better with the medicine?”
“It’s hard to tell yet, but I’ve great hope.”
“I shall keep her—and you—in my prayers. Do let me know if you need anything else.”
“Yes, ma’am. Evening, sir.” He inclined his head toward Jasper then turned and went back inside the boarding house.
Miss West made to follow him, but Jasper wasn’t ready to let her go. He moved to intercept her. “What’s wrong with his daughter?” he asked, thinking of any way to prolong their conversation.
She stopped short and blinked up at him. “A fever. She’s been sick a fortnight.” She stepped to the side as if to go around him, but Jasper headed her off.
“You knew he couldn’t pay you, yet you made the clothes anyway,” he said softly.
She paused, nodded. “He lost everything but his daughter in a fire several weeks ago, including his wife.” She lifted her gaze to his and Jasper wondered at the compassion of this woman. She was clearly in dire straits, yet gave to someone even needier.
Jasper touched his finger to her upturned cheek. “He was right. You are an angel.”
Her eyes widened slightly, but she didn’t jerk away. She stared up at him a long moment, then retreated from his touch. “My lord, I thank you again for your help this evening. Good night.”
No, not yet. Please. Though he ached to haul her up against him, burned to strip that cloak away and see the treasures hidden underneath, he forced himself to stand still, lest he frighten her off. “Let me make an appointment with you. I’ll pay whatever you ask.”
She stared up at him another long moment, seemed to consider his offer. Then she blinked. “No. Please go.”
He frowned. This night was apparently destined for the privy. But he still wasn’t willing to let her go without trying to stake his claim. He withdrew his calling card from an interior pocket of his coat and handed it to her. “Send a note if you change your mind.”
Her fingers curled around the card. She held it aloft for a moment. “I won’t,” she said.
She must already have a protector; many actresses did. He’d kept one himself for a time.
He took in the coarse wool of her cloak, glanced at the hovel she called home, and recalled the sorry condition of her boots. The rage he’d overcome toward the man who’d attacked her reformed and directed itself to the prick who kept her in such squalor. She was a diamond among the coal. She deserved far better.
“Keep the card. If your circumstances change,” he gave her a pointed stare, silently urging her to make that change, “please call upon me.”
Far more disappointed than he’d been a quarter hour earlier, Jasper pivoted and strode from the court. He turned onto the Haymarket. March fell into step just behind him, but didn’t say a word.
His coach stood across the thoroughfare, at the mouth of another court. Jasper hurried across the Haymarket, still busy despite the clock nearing or perhaps already passing midnight. He paused when he reached his vehicle. March moved in front of him and let down the step.
Raucous shouts drew Jasper to turn toward the small court, which was maybe thrice as big as an alley. Lanterns illuminated a circle of people, at the center of which two men fought. The rough sounds of violence drew him forward. He gestured for March to stay with the coach.
Jasper sparred several times a week at Jackson’s, a necessary exercise that both calmed and focused him. Tonight, the sounds of fighting—of fists striking flesh, of exertion—moved through him like the finest symphony, a balm for his frayed temper.
He moved closer, to the outermost ring of the circle. Two burly men fought in the center. One’s nose dripped blood, and the other sported a swelling eye. The spectators were entirely working class folk. Except one. A gentleman stood at one end, his arms crossed, his face fixed on the fight. He looked vaguely familiar. After a few moments, he raised his hand. “Enough,” he called. “Come back next time.”
The combatants stopped, their chests heaving. Both nodded but hung their heads a bit, as if that wasn’t the decision they wanted.
“Who’s next? I’ll watch one more bout,” the gentleman said.
A young, spry-looking fellow with a hooked nose stepped forward. “Enders, my lord.”
“Ah yes, Enders. I hoped you’d come back. Who will take him on?” He surveyed the crowd and when his eyes fell on Jasper, his lips curved into a smile. But then he moved on, dismissing him. Jasper’s ire surged. For the second time tonight, he’d been discounted. Rejected.
He pushed through the crowd and stepped into the circle, trained his gaze on the gentleman who’d passed him over. “Me.”
Reader Reviews (1)
Submitted By: yolanda l loves to read on Jan 25, 2014I loved Jasper's story. I have been reading non stop since i started Miranda's book. Darcy Burke is an amazing author. I have never bought book after book so fast before in my life. She gets you hooked on the characters and you cant wait to read their story. Jasper and Olivia were a great couple. I liked him in his sisters book and wondered how the author would portray him. I also love Servin and i know his book is next(already bought it) cant wait to read it. I would recommend this series.
His Wicked HeartBy: Darcy Burke